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SAB 90 - Felia Doubrovska

Who was Felia Doubrovska?

Doubrovska was born in 1896 and she trained at the Imperial Ballet School and joined the Mariinsky Ballet in 1913. At 5’6”, she was thought too tall for major roles at the Imperial Ballet. But when she and husband Pierre Vladimiroff joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, she became the dancer on whom Balanchine choreographed the Siren in Prodigal Son (pictured), and Polyhymnia in Apollo (pictured). After Diaghilev’s death (when the Ballets Russes disbanded), Doubrovska danced with Anna Pavlova; with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; in Nijinska’s company; in de Basil’s company; and she appeared with the Balanchine-Kirstein American Ballet in a single, festival performance in 1936. Her final performances were with Metropolitan Opera Ballet in 1939.

Info from the George Balanchine Foundation and Jennifer Dunning’s “But First a School” (affiliate link)

(top left and center) Doubrovska as Polyhymnia in Apollo. Photos by Lipnitzski, 1926.

(top right & bottom left). Doubrovska as the Siren in Prodigal Son with Serge Lifer. Photos by Sasha, 1929.

(bottom center) Felia Doubrovska as the Film Star in La Pastorale by Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, photo Sasha, 1926.


What was Doubrovska like?

“Doubrovska was tall and thin with delicate features, a small head, long neck, and beautifully sloping shoulders. She had long arms and fingers, and her port de bras was pure poetry. Balanchine called her the tall Pavlova. Her legs were long and beautifully proportioned, ending in a magnificently arched foot. Her dark hair was caught in a net and framed her face closely.” —Barbara Walczak via GBFoundation

“Doubrovska almost always wore navy blue chiffon with a low cut neckline, small cap sleeves, and a circular flowing skirt to her knees. She wore pink tights and ballet slippers tied with ribbons and jewelry (sometimes small earrings and a hanging pendant on a chain). There are photos of her in a white leotard and tights, on toe, and arching back. These photos show a body that would be envied by any dancer of any generation.”

—Barbara Walczak via George Balanchine Foundation

“To see her enter the studio, always ten minutes late and tiptoeing across delicately with a shy smile, heavily but elegantly made up and with a silky kerchief floating from the was itband of her teaching skirt, was to witness the kind of presence that made some students wonder why they’d ever imagined that they could be performers.”

—Toni Bentley’s recollection, as told by Jennifer Dunning in “But First a School

Photos by Frederick Melton, 1953.


What were Doubrovska’s classes like?

“Just watching her walk, sit down, and prepare to show a combination was a lesson in pure feminine movement. When she demonstrated a développé, she would hold the end of her skirt in her hand and look down with pleasant amazement at how perfectly her foot left the floor. Then she would raise her eyes as the leg extended out through space and at the peak of the développé her beautifully pointed foot would extend even farther before arcing into a breathtaking decent. Even though she was retired none of us could do a développé as magnificently as she did. Balanchine told us to observe how beautifully Doubrovska moved.

Doubrovska was influenced by Balanchine and her husband (apparently she and Vladimiroff did barre together in the morning). Her classes were difficult and contained a great many adagios. Many of her toe combinations came from ballets that she had danced. Her toe classes were difficult but above all, she taught us how to dance with quality, simplicity, and elegance.”

—Barbara Walczak via the George Balanchine Foundation

She was responsible of passion not eh art of performing to three generations of ballerinas at NYCB. She retired in 1980 at the age of eighty-four.

(top row & center left) Photos by Martha Swope, 1958.

(center right & bottom) Photo by Frederika Davis, 1963 for the magazine ‘Dance and Dancers.’

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